Scottish Canals

07/02/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/02/2019 09:14

The Forth & Clyde Canal welcomes back a century old navigational tale

A modern feat of Scottish engineering embraces old today as the monstrous outline of a wartime airship is cut into the grounds of The Falkirk Wheel.

The 643 foot outline of the R34 Airship has been cut into the grass on the grounds of the world's only rotating boat lift in recognition of the centenary of the airship's record-breaking double crossing of the Atlantic.

The westward passage between Scotland and America, which took place between the 2nd and 13th of July in 1919, was the longest continuous flight of the time and used the Forth & Clyde Canal as a navigation tool as it crossed the width of Scotland.

Built in Scotland by the William Beardmore Engineering Co. in Glasgow, the gargantuan ship planned in wartime but flown in peace carried a crew from East Lothian to New York in a continuous flight which took 108 hours against prevailing winds.

The R34 flight was manned by a largely Scottish crew, and included two stowaways who managed to join the four day long flight at the last moment - a crewman who had supposedly forfeited his space and a tabby cat named Wopsie. After three days of rest and revelry in New York, the airship returned to Norfolk in a record of 75 hours.

Nicknamed 'Tiny' by the original crew, the ship would only have been a few feet shorter in height than the iconic Falkirk Wheel structure, and placed next to each other would extend 321 foot in each direction from north to south; a truly massive feat of Scottish engineering.

Along with the marking of the shape on the grounds of The Falkirk Wheel, a number of similar celebrations are planned across the country.

The East Fortune Scottish Museum of Flight will be marking the outline of the vast airship in biodegradable paint, along with similar celebrations at the touch down sites in New York and Norfolk where the ship met the land following its transatlantic endeavour.

You can find out more about the history and story of the R34 at the National Museum of Flight exhibition, or on the Cradle of Aviation Museum website.

Images of the R34 in flight.